Coin-Operated Salespeople

Jeff sells office equipment. He eats, sleeps and breathes office equipment. His product line is significant – copy machines, postage meters, calculators, file cabinets, laser printers, desks, chairs – you name it, he sells it. Jeff has taken every sales training course known to mankind. He has read every book on selling techniques and attended a gazillion seminars. His lexicon includes words and phrases such as targets, sales funnel, objections, buying signals, gatekeeper, closed-end questions, open-end questions, deal flow, decision maker – you get the picture. And every day Jeff puts into practice what he has learned. But is he successful at what he does? Sure, he makes a decent living but while reaching for the stars, he’s lucky to make it to the McDonald’s on the last exit out of town. While not exactly a Willy Loman, Jeff can be classified as a coin-operated salesperson.

The world is full of coin-operated salespeople. They all want to be superstars and almost every single one of them will never be. They hew to the traditional basics and fundamentals of sales. The Jeffs of the world will absolutely try and close the deal seven times because that’s what the experts say must be done. They will sweat their quotas and worry that the last deal they did will be the last deal they’ll ever do. Their ultimate goal is to ring the cash register. Move that product in every increasing numbers. Numbers, numbers, numbers! What a shame. It doesn’t have to be this way. Jeff and his ilk could take a much easier road – one that would be far more productive for them and their customers.

First and foremost, real “sales” isn’t about selling. It’s about helping people buy. What’s the distinction you ask? It begins with the real reason for a sales encounter. If that reason is to put money in my pocket as a salesperson, then the motivation is all wrong out of the gate. Instead, we might want to see the sales encounter as an opportunity to help someone else. To do this we need to build a genuine relationship with the customer. We need to understand what the customer needs. Far too many sales people are unwilling to invest the time and effort that is required to really understand their customers. If they can’t get a sale quickly, they are ready to drop the customer instantly and move on to the next one. After all, they rationalize this behavior because they have a family to feed.

We can hone our entrepreneurial approach to avoid being the coin-operated salesperson. As entrepreneurs, we’re always selling. But if we adopt the attitude that we’re going to help people buy, our mindset will be so different that we’ll avoid the coin-operated traps. For starters, we are customer-centric instead of product-centric. This means that we will do whatever it takes to make sure that we are being of service to our customers. We aren’t going to try and foist our products or services on them if they aren’t interested in buying from us. And yet we’ll continue to work to build a relationship with them over time – even if they aren’t buying today. Relationships are kings of the castle.

Building lasting relationships requires a lot more than what we learn from standard sales training. It taps into our intuition and forces us to “read” people in such a way as to understand them and the complexities of their lives. Building true relationships avoids manipulation. It avoids quid pro quo. We’ll do things for our customers because we are here to serve the relationship – regardless of whether they buy from us. And as I’ve said many times, this is not a Pollyanna-ish concept. I’ve lived my life this way and have countless examples of relationships that I’ve served that never bought anything from me. But great good has come into my life as result of these relationships whether from the referral of other customers, new team members or opportunities of which I would never have been aware. I know that it’s hard not to be a coin-operated salesperson when there’s a mortgage to pay, the kids need braces and the car is on its last legs. But that’s even more reason to dump the “paint-by-numbers” approach and focus on relationship-building and being customer-centric.

We will have much more success when we help people buy what they need than when we try to sell to them. This requires the long-term process of building and serving relationships. But the payday in the end is far greater than the coin-operated method of selling.

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This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Ice and Eskimos

I’ve written before about the sales mindset. But I’d like to expand on this subject with some additional thoughts. Entrepreneurs are always selling whether it’s raising money, peddling a product or convincing a new team member to come on board. We’ve all heard the adage, “he could sell ice to an eskimo.” This conjures up an image of a slick, fast-talking huckster who cons his “marks” into purchasing something they really don’t need. Obviously this is the antithesis of how we want to be perceived as  entrepreneurs.

I’m trying to expunge the terminology of “selling” from my vocabulary. Why? In my opinion the traditional notion of selling is product-based. In other words I have a product and I’m going to do everything I can to convince you to buy it. What goes unsaid here is, “I’m going to do everything I can to convince you to buy it whether you want it or not.” Maybe this is just my personal bias, but I’ve observed others over the years that act in similar fashion when they get into the sales mode. Instead of “selling to” I’ve moved into a “buying from” mindset. I submit the following:

  • When we sell something to someone else we’re product-focused.
  • When we help someone buy something we’re customer-focused.

The difference in these two approaches is night and day. When we help someone buy, the product takes a back seat. We’re more interested in building a relationship and creating trust with someone else. We’re more interested in understanding exactly what they need. Through this discovery process we may find that our product is not best-suited for this particular individual. But that’s OK because we are helping them buy what they need – not what we want them to have. You may be thinking, “This flies in the face of so many of the selling techniques that are time-tested and proven.” And you may be right. But I’m willing to wager that an entrepreneur who genuinely wants to help people buy what they need is going to win far more often than a salesman who just wants to move product. When relationships take precedence, they can produce unanticipated results. I’ve experienced numerous instances where I determined that what we were helping a customer buy wasn’t right for him or her. But it was clear that the relationship was more important than the sale. And ultimately we received referrals from those customers that did result in someone else buying from us.

When we just have to make the sale, we’re less likely to focus on the customer. We’re desperate to close the deal. One of my colleagues told me about an encounter she had with an individual who had called her to set up an introductory meeting. From the outset he was selling. He made no effort to learn more about her and establish a rapport – much less build a relationship. He made no effort to understand what she needed to purchase. He simply launched into his pitch and barely took a breath. By the end she was worn out listening to him and told me how off-putting the whole encounter had been.

There are some very simple rules that we can follow to ensure that we avoid the “selling to” approach.

  1. Always start the process by asking questions of the customer. This will help to establish a rapport and to determine his or her needs.
  2. Eliminate the terms “sales” and “selling” from our vocabulary.
  3. Genuinely care about the customer and find a way to meet his/her needs even if it involves a product that’s not our own.
  4. Make certain that it’s clear to the customer that it’s his/her best interest that we have at heart and not our own.
  5. Remember the only way to develop long-term satisfied customers is to help them buy what they need. And the endorsement of long-term satisfied customers is worth its weight in gold.

When we maintain our focus on the customer at all times we win. Sometimes this requires us to look past an immediate transaction. But it will always pay big dividends in the end.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Igloo

Buy or Sell?

Question: I see people use essentially the same sales techniques, but some are successful and some are not. How can this be?

Answer: There are so many books about selling that it would be impossible to read all of them in a lifetime. And there are so many different techniques that it makes our heads spin. So what does it all boil down to? I can simplify it fairly easily. A successful salesperson does not sell anything. Nothing at all. Nada. Instead, he or she helps a customer buy something.

The distinction between buying and selling is huge. And it can be the difference between success or failure. Let’s examine what all this means. Old-school salespeople do the schmooze with the customer. They use techniques such as asking questions that get the customer to answer with the word “yes.” They attempt to close at least seven times with different methods. They try and create a sense of urgency – i.e. the price is going to increase tomorrow, or there is only one left. I’m not quarreling with the fact that these methods may have worked in the past. But people are more sophisticated in today’s world and they don’t respond to manipulation as they may have in an earlier era.

Rather than selling to someone, I submit that helping someone buy can be as effective as old-school salesmanship – maybe even more so. This starts from a premise of respect in that we want to help meet the needs of a customer – notice the mindset is accentuated by the words “respect” and “help.” Understanding the needs of a customer means asking a lot of questions; usually many more than a customer is typically asked. In the process, there is an opportunity to build a relationship with the customer. Working with someone on a relationship basis is part of the “help” to which I’ve referred. Think about this for a moment. Are you more or less inclined to buy from someone who has genuinely tried to understand your needs and at the same time you are both able to get to know each other better?

Of course you need to be completely knowledgeable about your product or service in order to answer the questions raised by the customer. And you’ll certainly want to demonstrate the features and how they translate into benefits. But I think the sale is won or lost in the first few seconds of the encounter based upon how well you connect with the customer. Will this happen with manipulation and pressure? Or is the connection made through the process of thoroughly understanding needs and building relationships?

To be successful at sales simply practice the Golden Rule. In all likelihood, helping someone buy is the way you would want it to be when you are the customer.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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